Two years ago I almost died in the mountains. Yet I was too estranged from myself to learn the real lesson behind it. I was keen on going through pain to be a man. The more it hurt, the better. I felt ashamed, when my body almost collapsed under the stress, when my limbs jittered and my soul cried out.
I thought my body’s outcry was a sign of inadequacy. A real man would not even grunt in the face of death.
All the while I missed the real lesson of pain and why it makes men. It is not the abyss that is a man’s home. It is the abyss that a man crosses to reach home.
Otherwise, all pain is just a prelude to even more pain and the body shuts down in protest. It righteously asks: What for? Why are you torturing me? What have I done? What will I gain?
It is not a man who is not challenged or terrified by anything. It is a man who learned that some things deserve being terrified of. The lesson of pain is not a heightened sense of pride. It is humility, for you know the pain could have crushed you and all you love, if not for a coincidence. If not for god’s will, so to speak.
The blinded hero
I kept torturing myself out of narcissism. Hoped that one day, pain would stop feeling like pain and start feeling like home. In a weird way, I kept pursuing the pain to convince myself it does not exist.
Naturally, I ended up rejecting the pain. I rejected pain as I was unwilling to accept it for what it was: Painful. I tried to force my mind into the illusion that pain is comfortable. For 6 months, I went to the harsh martial arts training 3 times a week, each time hoping that this time it would feel great.
I failed to learn the lesson, because I did not listen to my soul. I thought I already knew the outcome of the lesson before I had learned it, thus never accepting and embracing the true outcome of the lesson even while it was all in my face all the time: It fucking hurts and I can barely take it.
When I did the frog poison ritual, I expected it to feel great. Heroic. But I ended up crying, because I felt fucking alone and lost.
I thought I knew the outcome of the lesson, because I had read books about a perfect and unflinching hero. Who, even during torture, does not wince. That be a real man, then. That be who I must be. To impress the world and all women in it.
The lesson that was to be learned from my stroke with death was not that I have to man up and not give a damn about my life in order to look good and heroic for the invisible spectator.
The lesson that was to be learned was that it was fucking painful and I do want to live. I do want to love my life.
Death was not something to fall in love with; it was something to teach me the value of life. Death was to teach me that death is not what I want.
Being the hero is slavery. The proud hero sucks up to the politicians. To daddy. Daddy who is proud of little Johny McPatriot who is willing to even die for his fucking fatherland. Eager to rush into death, because even death is nothing compared to the inner emptiness from being an outcast and absolutely disrespected.
What made the men in the K-19 go work on a nuclear reactor, where a certain terrible death awaited them? It is hard to imagine what they must have went through. When I imagine all that radiation, all those nuclear particles passing through me, I do not just see the burned skin and the tumors. No, I am reminded of my most terrible psychedelic trips. I am reminded of the safety boundaries in your brain that this radiation can annihilate, exposing you to a kind of reality you are not supposed or prepared to see. A darkness and terror well hidden for good reasons, awaiting those men in the reactor room, pulsating in the befouled, hot and heavy air.
And yet, these men had nothing but their blind obedience. The only love they had in their hearts was the love to a symbol. A country. An ideal. Rejecting the symbol is akin to rejecting yourself when the two become one. There is no good choice; only a bad and a worse one.
And do you remember the scene in Das Boot, when one of the soldiers cries in regret? When he remembers how drunk he was of the idea to go into war and face death? When he struggles to believe his own futility and sees that the thing he pursued in pride held nothing but nameless terror for him? Months ago, I laughed at him in contempt. But whether I acknowledged it or not, I was feeling the same. His only weakness was his honesty.
But can you learn the lesson that I and that soldier had to learn the hard way, can you learn it without pursuing your own prideful wish to confront death? I am not sure. Maybe. Maybe not. Is that not the point of an initiation rite? To experience that you could have died? Can you learn it any other way than going there? Do you need to learn it? A lot of interesting questions. I guess your gut knows the answer that is valid for you.
I find it important to.
Never show yourself
But it becomes even more interesting with genuine self-loathing. When you self-loathe, you actually engage in just the opposite of what you really want to do at any time. Your soul tells you to love? Fuck that; paranoia makes hatred feel better. And they are only out to get you and betray you anyway, so why give them the time of day?
The more my soul cried, the more I terrorized it. Because I knew that in the world I grew up in – with my mother – an honest expression of my self would lead to more pain than self-repression could even compete with. Self-repression and closing yourself up completely, hiding behind a mask, is nothing in comparison with .
Wearing a mask becomes a virtue. An act of mercy towards your soul. Do not show weakness. Do not show masculinity. In general, do not show anything that may be real.
And with time, you grow proud of your ability to be whatever someone expects you to be. Grow proud of your ability to not be hurt. But that is a lie, is it not? You just do not show it, not even to yourself. And when you decide to look away even from your own pain, you can not defend yourself against it and it eats you up from the inside.
And you want to open up and, but you know – or, at a certain point, just believe – that opening up only brings even more terrible pain than the pain you experience from being shut off from other people and even yourself.
Was I being the nice guy because I was ashamed of who I really was? Or was I just too afraid of what would happen to me if somebody – mother? – found out what simmered underneath? I guess the answer is a mix of those two.
I realize I am not all powerful, not omnipotent.
I realize I will meet men who can strike me down with ease.
I realize I will meet women who can crush my soul and eat it alive.
I realize I will meet death some day and it may present to me all the terrible things I do not even dare think about most of the time.
And I can do nothing about the fact that they exist and that that can happen. I am powerless over that. I can cry all I want and curse the world, it will change nothing.
I can not demand a reality without all that pain without first acknowledging that it is an inextinguishable part of it. No matter how much I want to, I can not create a world in which I will never encounter such pain again, in which horrible injustice can no longer get me. It is but a futile and childish outcry that forsakes your freedom: Never again!
I would need to become an absolute tyrant myself.
Pain is something to be embraced and tolerated, but not pursued.
But I can do one thing. I can accept the fight.
I do not want a world without pain, but I can choose to live for something else but the pain.
It is okay to stop chasing death. I will be a man no less.
It is okay to go through pain without enjoying it. Yes, my feet will jitter in exhaustion and panic. Yes, I will feel broken after losing fights. Yes, I will feel disappointed, sad, humiliated when girls will reject me. Yes, people will disrespect me and beat me and I may have to lower my head. And that is fine. It does not have to feel good. It does not need to be something I am eager to feel. Because it is not what I live for. It is something to pass through.
I do not regret my experiences.
But I can choose to live.